Werner Erhard at the University of Pennsylvania

Werner Erhard discussed the est Training and more with Professor Jonathan D. Moreno in this compelling conversation hosted by the University of Pennsylvania in the first annual Bioethics film festival where the film Transformation: The Life and Legacy of Werner Erhard was viewed. Watch this great interview here: http://www.pennbioethicsfilmfest.org/video-archive (scroll down the page to view)


Werner Erhard and Jonathan D Moreno



Contributing Transformation in the World

In manifesting your aliveness, you will want to follow a principle which was beautifully stated by Albert Schweitzer when he said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: The only ones among you who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” Notice that Dr. Schweitzer says “sought and found how to serve.” He did not say “try to serve,” or “try something and drop it,” or “do the best you can.”

Happiness comes from having served successfully.

One continues to expand in one’s ability to serve by meeting the challenge of actually delivering the results.

Decide on a project for which you are willing to take complete responsibility. Complete the project successfully. Relate this achievement to others as an inspiration for them. Your willingness to express yourself may be just the trigger needed by someone else to do something for themselves. From now on, don’t wait for something to happen to you. Actually take responsibility for making something happen. Keep at it until you make it a successful experience for everyone. You can make the difference.

Werner Erhard, from the est Graduate Review, March 1980

Living Inside of A Context “It Can Be Done”

“What The Hunger Project intended to do was to catalyze the global grass-roots committed movement and action that would put the end of persistent hunger into place, which means not just feeding hungry people today, but establishing the whole design, the whole infrastructure so that people can feed themselves and their children well into future generations. You see, it was a project of great faith in human beings. Great faith that if hundreds and thousands and millions of individuals took a stand for the end of the persistence of hunger, as an idea whose time has come, that they would then find an action that was appropriate to them. So if they were an engineer or an agricultural specialist, or if they were a politician, or a United Nations delegate, or if they happened to be a scientist or a professor, or the President of the High School Student Body, all of those individuals would have different actions available to them that would have a different impact. The entirety of the impact would be that child in Uganda being fed on a given day, being inoculated so as to survive disease, and being educated – of great importance to end the persistence of hunger – and that ultimately, we the global citizens of the world would be acting for the benefit of our children. And the necessary actions would take place.

So you see it was a stand based on faith and the goodness of humanity, that if human beings knew what they needed to know and lived inside of a context of “it can be done” they would take the actions that were theirs to take that would make that difference.

The Hunger Project enrolled over four million individuals who signed a paper saying “I have taken a stand. I will make the end of hunger an idea whose time has come as my personal responsibility.” The Global grass-roots educational campaign went on from 1977 and through the 80’s. Millions of people enrolled and participated and contributed money and there were many, many groups that broke off from The Hunger Project. “Results” was one that did political action in Washington, DC. Another was “World Runners” where people would do marathons to end world hunger, to get out the news, to alert people that something could be done. In those days, that was really rare, and now you see marathons for everything, which is wonderful. Walks to end breast cancer, and marathons for AIDS awareness, and in those days it was really unusual, it was new. And there was enormous participation through the 80’s and then at the end of the 80’s The Hunger Project made a transformation of its own and began to do very high level strategic work, which it’s currently doing in Africa and India primarily.

I would say in many ways it was successful all the way to the hungry people, in that millions more dollars were given and raised for organizations that were working on the ground doing relief work as well as for The Hunger Project. The Hunger Project raised hundreds of millions of dollars for other organizations as well. Infant Mortality rates fell in many countries. In some countries, due to war since then, they have again risen, The correlation between war and the infant mortality rate is a direct one. War creates the persistence of hunger and starvation. Also, really tens of thousands, if not more, of people, like me, became lifelong advocates for the end of the persistence of hunger and contribute as volunteers, contribute as donors, contribute as professionals to all kinds of organizations and vehicles and policies to help bring about the end of the persistence of hunger.

I think that once one makes a commitment with your heart and soul, I think it takes over your very molecules in a way. It becomes a very part of your personal life’s mission, and then the choices you make will be consistent with that mission. I’ve changed jobs and have participated with projects with many different countries and organizations, all of them consistent with the end of the persistence of hunger, and that will always be the case for me. And I think really for the many thousands of people who made this stand in the 70s and 80s.”

From an Interview with Catherine Parrish on The Hunger Project and Werner Erhard

Excerpt from The New York Times article on Werner Erhard

Werner Erhard New York Times 11-29-2015For several years before his latest professional reincarnation, Mr. Erhard consulted for businesses and government agencies like the Russian adult-education program the Znaniye Society and a nonprofit organization supporting clergy in Ireland.

Enter the Harvard economist Michael Jensen. Dr. Jensen, who is famous in financial circles for championing the concepts of shareholder value and executive stock options, had taken a Landmark course in Boston at the suggestion of his daughter, who mended a rocky relationship with Dr. Jensen after taking the course herself.

“I became convinced we should work to get this kind of transformational material into the academies,” he said, adding that he considers Mr. Erhard “one of the great intellectuals of the century.”

In 2004, with the help of a Landmark official, Dr. Jensen developed an experiential course on integrity in leadership at the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester. The class was offered there for five years, with Mr. Erhard signing on as an instructor during its third year. It has since been taught at several universities around the world as well as at the United States Air Force Academy.

As far as its philosophical underpinnings go, Mr. Erhard struggled a bit to describe the course without resorting to its Delphic phraseology (“ontological pedagogy,” “action as a correlate of the occurring”).

Sitting in front of a bank of computers in his hotel room, he read excerpts from the 1,000-page textbook he is working on, such as: “As linguistic abstractions, leader and leadership create leader and leadership as realms of possibility in which, when you are being a leader, all possible ways of being are available to you.”

Briefly, the course, which owes ideological debts to the Forum and to the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, takes an experience-based, rather than knowledge-based, approach to its subject. Students master principles like integrity and authenticity in order to leave the class acting as leaders instead of merely knowing about leadership.

Werner Erhard in The New York Times

…For several years before his latest professional reincarnation, Mr. Erhard consulted for businesses and government agencies like the Russian adult-education program the Znaniye Society and a nonprofit organization supporting clergy in Ireland.

Enter the Harvard economist Michael Jensen. Dr. Jensen, who is famous in financial circles for championing the concepts of shareholder value and executive stock options, had taken a Landmark course in Boston at the suggestion of his daughter, who mended a rocky relationship with Dr. Jensen after taking the course herself.

“I became convinced we should work to get this kind of transformational material into the academies,” he said, adding that he considers Mr. Erhard “one of the great intellectuals of the century.”

excerpt from The New York Times, November 28, 2015

New York Times 11-28-2015(2)

Celebrating Your Relationships

In the ordinary course of events, in order to bring something about, you need to establish a process. In other words, in order for me to get from here to here, I can’t do it all at once. I have to do it one step at a time and by handling it one step at a time, I can, as a matter of fact, be from here to there. So all I need to do is to be willing to establish a process, to manufacture a process – to produce a process. And by a process I can, in fact, accomplish something. Now, that’s the ordinary space in which we live.

There is, however, an extraordinary space in which we also live. I didn’t say to you that there’s an extraordinary space which you can achieve. Let me be very clear that I did not say that there is an extraordinary space which you can achieve. I said that we live both in the ordinary space and we live in this extraordinary space. Well, it’s like having the keys to an automobile in your pocket. If you don’t ever go out and put it in the ignition, you don’t get to drive the automobile. It isn’t enough that the automobile is there. You actually have to know about it and use it. So I want to turn you on to a quality of the space in which you live which could be called the extraordinary quality. And that is, that at the base of it all, fundamentally what’s so, is so by your consideration alone.

A great deal of what exists in our life exists as a function of our considerations. If you consider it to be so, it’s so. If you consider that I love you, I love you. Now you may not be able to consider me down there on the floor standing next to you.  It may be that that’s the part of your life that works in the ordinary way, because that’s pretty ordinary, standing next to someone. To be loved is extraordinary, and it’s a function of the extraordinary space. And it happens as a function of your consideration alone. By merely considering that I love you, I love you.

So you’ve got this universe in which you can create by consideration alone. I call that the magic wand. And it is the instrument by which one creates this ecstatic quality in one’s relationships. You imbue the relationship with ecstasy. You create, in the relationship, ecstasy. Now I caution you that you cannot create in opposition to anything. So if there’s something in the relationship, which you would consider to be inconsistent with ecstasy, you can’t create ecstasy in opposition to that thing. You can’t say, “It’s horrible, but I’m going to make it ecstatic.” You can’t say, “I don’t trust them, but I’m going to pretend it’s ecstatic. I’m going to.” This is not act as if. This is not pretend.  This is not go through the motions. This is something far senior to that. So you can’t consider, you can’t create by consideration, you can’t create by magic wand in opposition to anything.  You can, however, include anything in that which you create. So to create ecstasy in your relationship doesn’t mean that any particular thing has to be in your relationship or not in your relationships. There can be any circumstance and any condition presently existing in your relationship and you can wave the magic wand of ecstasy, as long as you’re willing to include in the ecstasy, as long as you’re willing for that circumstance or that consideration to be a function of the ecstasy, to in fact manifest the ecstasy, to express the ecstasy. And your willingness to allow any condition or any circumstance of your relationship to express the ecstasy is a part of the creation of the ecstasy.

So one creates ecstasy by waving one’s magic wand. One does not create ecstasy by doing something. I am ecstatic because I am ecstatic. I love you because I love you. You are magnificent because I’ve waved the magic wand of magnificence. I am magnificent because I’ve waved the magic wand of magnificence and every one of my characteristics is an expression of that magnificence. So let’s get clear with respect to creating magnificence in your relationships, with respect to creating ecstasy in your relationships, with respect to being willing to have pleasure be an expression of your love, this is all a function of your magic wand. This is all a function of your willingness to create it so, to consider it so. It is so because you consider it to be so. The action follows. The feelings follow. Sometimes people say things like, “I’m terrible” and I ask them how they measure that. By what means do you measure that you’re terrible? Someone once answered me, “Well, I don’t feel good. I feel bad.” Well, I don’t know. Some poetry is about feeling bad and yet it was ecstatic. Your feelings, good or bad, are merely an expression of your ecstasy, merely an expression of your love. To master this space, to master the space of ecstasy, to master the space of love, one must be willing to create by consideration. You need to be willing to do that. You need to be willing to create a context around the existing circumstances. And as you’ve heard from the people who’ve expressed it, it often takes a lot of courage.

But what if it turns out that you were a fool? Well, fool is probably not down very far from where you are if you’re worried about it. I mean, what the hell, it’s probably worth taking the chance. Don’t you see that you’ve exchanged the quality of your life, just to be right in the eyes of the people around you? Don’t you see that you’ve exchanged the quality of your life in order to defend yourself, in order to handle the issues with people you love, that you’ve given up, you’ve sacrificed, you’ve been willing to give up the quality in your life in order to have the power, the force to handle the issues between you and the people in your life. I mean, what the hell are you going to lose? What could you lose? You’ve already given your life up. If you’re doing that, you’ve already given your life up. What the hell have you got to lose? Some crummy job? Some crummy marriage or relationship in which the issues are more important than the expression or experience of love? Not much to lose. If, in fact, it only exists in appearances, so what? And yet, to be loved is extraordinary, and it happens as a function of your consideration alone. – Werner Erhard


Excerpt from The Graduate Review, Sept. 1978, from a presentation by Werner Erhard

Peter Block on Werner Erhard

Werner Erhard has created thinking and learning experiences that have affected millions of people’s lives.

The power of language.

Werner understands the primal creative nature of language. Many of us have focused for years on improving conversations. We have known that dialogue and communication are important tools for improvement. Werner takes it to a whole new realm by asserting that all transformation is linguistic. He believes that a shift in speaking and listening is the essence of transformation. If we have any desire to create an alternative future, it is only going to happen through a shift in our language. If we want a change in culture, for example, the work is to change the conversation–or, more precisely, to have a conversation that we have not had before, one that has the power to create something new in the world. This insight forces us to question the value of our stories, the positions we take, our love of the past, and our way of being in the world.

The power of context.

Another insight is in the statement, “The context is decisive.” This means that the way we function is powerfully impacted by our worldview, or the way, in his language, “the world shows up for us.” Nothing in our doing or the way we go through life will shift until we can question, and then choose once again, the basic set of beliefs–some call it mental models; we’re calling it context here–that lie behind our actions. Quoting Werner, “Contexts are constituted in language, so we do have something to say about the contexts that limit and shape our actions.”

Implied in this insight is that we have a choice over the context in which we live. Plus, as an added bargain, we can choose a context that better suits who we are now without the usual requirements of inner work, a life-threatening crisis, finding a new relationship, or going back to school (the most common transformational technologies of choice).

The way this happens, (made too simple here) is by changing our relationship with our past. We do this by realizing, through a process of reflection and rethinking, how we have not completed our past and unintentionally keep bringing it into the future. The shift happens when we pay close attention to the constraints of our listening and accept the fact that our stories are our limitation. This ultimately creates an opening for a new future to occur.

The power of possibility. Changing our relationship with our past leads to another aspect of language that Werner has carefully developed. This is an understanding of the potential in the concept and use of possibility. Possibility as used here is distinguished from other words like vision, goals, purpose, and destiny. Each of those has its own profound meaning, but all are different from the way Werner uses the word possibility. Possibility here is a declaration, a declaration of what we create in the world each time we show up. It is a condition, or value, that we want to occur in the world, such as peace, inclusion, relatedness, reconciliation. A possibility is brought into being in the act of declaring it.

Werner described this with more precision in recent personal correspondence:

I suggest that you consider making it clear that it is the future that one lives into that shapes one’s being and action in the present. And, the reason that it appears that it is the past that shapes one’s being and action in the present is that for most people the past lives in (shapes) their view of the future.

…it’s only by completing the past )being complete with the past) such that it no longer shape’s one’s being and action in the present that there is room to create a new future (one not shaped by the past – a future that wasn’t going to happen anyhow). Futures not shaped by the past (i.e, a future that wasn’t going to happen anyhow) are constructed in language.

In summary, (1) one gets complete with the past, which takes it out of the future (being complete with the past is not to forget the past); (2) in the room that is now available in the future when one’s being and action are no longer shaped by the past, one creates a future (a future that moves, touches, and inspires one); (3) that future starts to shape one’s being and actions in the present so that they are consistent with realizing that future.

Peter Block, excerpted from his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, 2009

J.L Moreno on Werner Erhard

From the book, Impromptu Man,  by Jonathan D. Moreno

“Erhard Seminars Training, known as est, epitomized the Great Crossover. In the 1970’s, as hundreds of troubled hospitalized patients were daily being released for their involuntary commitment in vast institutions, hundreds of “normal people” were voluntarily entering hotel ballrooms in the hope of transforming themselves. The attraction was a handsome and charismatic young man named Werner Erhard, who had undergone his own “transformation.” The word has a nearly technical significance for Erhard, who uses it to refer to his realization that what stood between him and his completeness as a human being was within his control. A critical part of “the training,” as practitioners refer to it, is freeing oneself from the past, accomplished by “experiencing” recurrent patterns and problems rather than repeating them, where “experience” again has a technical significance. To fully experience the pointless repetition of old, burdensome behaviors is to “experience them out.” An early biography of Erhard explains that:

“The Training provides a format in which siege is mounted on the Mind. It is intended to identify and bring under examination presuppositions and entrenched positionality. It aims to press one beyond one’s point of view, at least momentarily, into a perspective from which one observes one’s own positionality… The setting for the training is arduous and intrusive, …In the training ordinary ways to escape confronting one’s experience are- with the agreement of the participants-sealed off in advance. On the concrete level this means limited access to food, water toilets, bed. Alcohol and drugs are forbidden. There is limited movement, there are no clocks or watches by which to tell the time; one may not talk to others; nor may one sit beside friends. Internal crutches and barriers to experience – such as one’s own belief systems – are also challenged by means of philosophical lectures and exercises in imagination.”

Participants might have been surprised how both physically and emotionally challenging and how philosophical the training was…Erhard struck a chord among many, partly because it was simultaneously original and familiar. Erhard brought a uniquely American voice to the themes of the fading human potential movement, and est training was in the American tradition of Great Awakenings and motivational programs. He had a way with pithy, often spontaneous observations about life and living. Evan as the spirit of the 1960s lost steam, there was a powerful lingering desire among many for personal exploration and for more authentic connections to others. In many ways the training was the most important cultural event after the human potential movement itself seemed exhausted, with elements of theater, therapy, and social networking.

Somewhere along the line the clunky term “large group awareness training” had been coined in reference to experiences like est that were on a bigger scale than Lewin’s T-groups, but still aiming at Maslow’s peak experiences. Crucially, est workshops took place on a stage before dozens or even hundreds of people. That was a departure from the usual encounter group size of a dozen or so participants, and further still from the analyst’s couch. Erhard also confronted participants one-on-one, challenging them to be themselves rather than playing some role that had been imposed on them, a form of Socratic interrogation reminiscent of J.L.’s story about mounting the stage to confront the actor in the “legitimate” Vienna theater. Erhard was sensitive to the aspect of theater in the training; his biographer even calls it “a new form of participatory theater,… Like most drams, it has catharsis as one of its aims. Unlike most drama, it also aims to bring the participant to an experience of him or herself which is tantamount to transformation.” In the early years of est Erhard cited psychodrama as one way of “rehabilitating the imagination in the attempt to bring people to their potential.” And he plainly had enormous charisma and self-confidence, qualities that J.L. also didn’t lack. Erhard sold his company in 1991; it survives as Landmark Worldwide and its basic program is called the Landmark Forum. Erhard now travels and lectures on leadership education and integrity. Referring to a book he is completing with a friend, Erhard says that “I’d like to live long enough to get the ideas down.”

From Impromptu Man: J.L. Moreno and the Origins of Psychodrama, Encounter Culture, and the Social Network, by Jonathan D. Moreno

Jonathan D. Moreno is an American philosopher and historian who specializes in the intersection of bioethics, culture, science, and national security, and has published seminal works on the history, sociology and politics of biology and medicine.

Your power is a function of velocity

Your power is a function of velocity, that is to say, your power is a function of the rate at which you translate intention into reality. Most of us disempower ourselves by finding a way to slow, impede, or make more complex than necessary the process of translating intention into reality.

There are two factors worth examining in our impairing velocity, in our disempowering ourselves.

The first is the domain of reasonableness. When we deal with our intentions or act to realize our intentions from reasonableness, we are in the realm of slow, impede and complicate. When we are oriented around the story or the narrative, the explanations, the justifications, we are oriented around that in which there is no velocity, no power.

Results are black and white. In life, one either has results (one’s intentions realized) or one has the reason, story, explanations, and justifications. The person of power does not deal in explanations. This way of being might be termed management by results (not management for results but management by results). The person of power manages him or herself by results and creates a space or mood of results in which to interact with others.

The other factor to be addressed is time. Now never seems to be the right time to act. The right time is always in the future. Usually this appears in the guise of “after I (or we) do so and so, then it will be the right time to act”; or “after so and so occurs, then it will be the right time to act”; or “when so and so occurs, then it will be the right time to act.” The guise includes “gathering all the facts,” “getting the plan down,” “figuring out ‘X’,” “getting ready,” etc.

Since now is the only time you have in reality and now will never seem to be the right time to act, one may as well act now. Even though “it isn’t the right time,” given that the “right time” will never come, acting now is, at the least, powerful (even if you don’t get to be right). Most people wait for the decisive moment, whereas people of power are decisive in the moment. – Werner Erhard

By Werner Erhard, March 21, 1983

Werner Erhard

Werner Erhard is an original thinker whose ideas have transformed the effectiveness of and quality of life for millions of people and thousands of organizations around the world.  For more than 40 years he has been the creator of innovative ideas and models of individual, organizational, and social transformation.

His work has been the source of new perspectives for thinkers and practitioners in fields as diverse as business, education, philosophy, medicine, psychotherapy, developing and emerging countries, conflict resolution and community building.  Erhard has created new ways of seeing things in areas where progress has stalled or where breakthroughs would make a significant difference.  A majority of the Fortune 100 companies, and many foundations and governmental entities, have used his ideas and models.  Fortune magazine’s 40th anniversary issue (5/15/95), in examining the major contributions to management thinking, recognized Werner Erhard’s ideas about methods for empowering people as one of the major innovations in management thinking of the last few decades.

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